Marc Lievremont admitted he could not have asked for any more from his players after they went agonisingly close to destroying New Zealand’s World Cup dream.
France, against all odds, pushed the All Blacks to the brink of defeat at Eden Park.
But New Zealand, as they had done against Les Bleus in the 1987 final, took the Webb Ellis Trophy, thanks to prop Tony Woodcock’s try and a second-half penalty from substitute fly-half Stephen Donald.
But it was cruel on the French, who have now played in three World Cup finals and lost the lot.
“It is tremendously sad, but I am tremendously proud of the players,” said Lievremont, who now steps down to be replaced by former Gloucester and Sale rugby director Philippe Saint-Andre.
“We said the All Blacks were the best team in the world. Today, the French team was great.
“The players made many promises to themselves, and I think they kept them. We felt we were right in the match at half-time, and the second-half was one-way traffic.”
France recovered from the early loss through injury of fly-half Morgan Parra, who was on the receiving end of a crunching tackle by All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu and what appeared to be New Zealander skipper Richie McCaw’s knee.
And when captain Thierry Dusautoir crossed for a try early in the second period, France seemed on course to rip up world rugby’s formbook and claim a famous win.
“To score the try felt good,” Dusautoir said. “I was glad I was near the posts for the conversion.
“There was still lots of time left. We had to pressurise them, but we did not do enough to get the points.
“Everyone was nervous. There were 30 guys on the pitch and they were all scared.”
France made their intentions clear before the start, making a v-shaped formation to face New Zealand’s traditional pre-match haka, and then marching on their opponents.
By crossing the halfway line – which is against tournament protocol – France could face a £10,000 fine, but it laid down a marker that they were never going to take a backwards step.
Reflecting on what was a memorable moment of sporting theatre, Dusautoir added: “At one point, we were so close to them that they wanted to kiss the New Zealanders, but I told them to take it easy.
“It was a great moment and a great story.”